NAIROBI — The Kenyan foreign ministry's most senior civil servant and two career diplomats were charged on Thursday with abuse of office in a corruption scandal involving the purchase of a Tokyo embassy building at an inflated price.
The arrest of Permanent Secretary Thuita Mwangi is the latest attempt to prosecute high-profile officials over graft that has blighted east Africa's biggest economy.
Mwangi had stepped down from his role once before, as did former Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetangula, who is now trade minister, but both were reinstated after an ethics body cleared them of wrongdoing.
Wetangula, who has not been arrested, is now an influential member of Prime Minister Raila Odinga's CORD coalition, which is due to contest the March 4 presidential election.
Kenya's Ambassador to Libya, Anthony Muchiri, and the country's former charge d'affaires in Japan, Allan Mburu, were also charged over the 2009 deal that became a national scandal a year later when the transaction was first investigated.
The trio authorized the purchase of a building for an embassy and ambassador's residence while "aware that a fair market price could have been obtained had proper procurement procedures been adhered to", Kenya police documents said.
Authorities accuse Mwangi and Mburu of unlawfully authorising the 1.7 billion Japanese yen ($18.56 million) purchase and say the duo "improperly" paid a Japanese businessman a bonus of 319 million Japanese yen ($3.48 million) - which matches the sum by which the property was inflated.
The deal was controversial in Kenya where the United Nations says around 45 percent of the population live in poverty, and where graft and corruption are endemic.
Outgoing President Mwai Kibaki promised to crack down on corruption after he was elected in 2002 but no minister has been convicted of graft in Kenya.
Mburu and Mwangi did not enter a plea in court and the duo made bail set at 2 million shillings ($23,200) each, while Muchiri was summoned to appear in court alongside the co-accused to face corruption charges.
A Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations report in 2010 said Kenya lost $14 million in the Tokyo embassy deal, and more money was lost in deals to buy embassies in Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Belgium.